Oh no, planking has made its way to Japan. This is a bit of a strange episode for me. It deals mostly with Masako, and she’s not exactly an endearing character. I don’t hesitate to defend her because I think people can perceive the world in rather black and white terms. As a result, a young mother abandoning a cute, little girl pushes all the right buttons for folks to get self-righteous and indignant. Despite this, however, I feel as though any story featuring Masako is a narrative dead end.
We all know that the main draw of Usagi Drop’s story is the dynamic between Rin and Daikichi. We want to see how the pair develops their father-daughter relationship. Since most fathers work long hours and leave much of the parenting to mothers in Japan (or any society, for that matter), this makes Rin and Daikichi’s relationship ever the more compelling. Any growth in Masako’s character, however, would counteract this.
Masako can’t become a better mother and a better person because that would necessitate a move towards a Rin-Masako relationship and less Rin-Daikichi development. After all, if Masako was suddenly mature enough — if she was suddenly capable of raising Rin on her own — how could Rin not return to her mother? Rin’s only six, after all, and it’s not even a question of whether or not a woman or a man is better equipped to raise a child. Masako is Rin’s mother and Rin should get a chance to develop a healthy relationship with the woman who gave birth to her.
So we know this can’t happen because the story’s all about Rin and Daikichi. Any story featuring Masako is thus a dead end for the time being and Usagi Drop’s eighth episode hammers home this very point. Masako comes close enough to observe Rin from a distance, but this is as far as she’ll go. She acknowledges that it’s her daughter’s birthday, but she has no letter, card, or present for Rin. Yes, it’s very much understandable that Masako might want Rin to never learn of her mother’s existence, but Masako could have gotten a gift for her daughter anyway. All she would have to do is ask Daikichi to claim her present as his. Instead, what do we see?
We see Masako try her very damndest to push any thoughts and concerns of her child to the wayside by recklessly overworking herself as a mangaka. When her boyfriend tries to care for her — and I’ll admit that his actions were a little paternalistic, but certainly nothing over-the-line or malicious — she makes a scene at a cafe and petulantly asserts that she’s no longer a girl but a woman. Yet it is very obvious to the audience that Masako’s status as a woman hinges not on the fact that she’s a mangaka. Instead, her womanhood depends upon her acceptance of responsibility for her status as a mother whether she likes it or not.
Masako’s refusal or inability to realize this very fact shows that she’s still just a child on the inside. She’s too irresponsible to ever be a woman — no woman would ever abandon her child and not take responsibility for this mistake — and, as a result, Masako hasn’t shown any growth since we last saw her. What, then, is really the point of including Masako in the story? So that the audience can pile onto her character even more?
“Why didn’t Masako come to the funeral?”
I thought Daikichi acted incredibly silly here. Why would Masako come to the funeral? She’s not a part of the family nor is she dumb enough to think the Kagas would have accepted her company. Masako is obviously immature, but we have no reason to think she’s this socially dense. Anyway, upon seeing the mementos Masako left at Souichi’s grave, Daikichi leaves Rin behind to look for her mother. Isn’t this a little unsafe? Yeah, it led to a touching moment where Masako got to observe her daughter from afar, but I thought this scene was a little far-fetched.
The missing factor
People have been telling me all season that Rin’s experience with Souichi explains why she’s so mature for a six year old, but why would this necessarily be the case? Anyway, Rin gets up early in this episode to throw clothes into the washer and water some plants. In the meantime, Daikichi is sleeping in due to the hot weather. Rin even makes sure to change the date on the calendar — it’s all very cute, but y’know, kids cause trouble; that’s just their nature. We don’t see this, however, and as a result, the portrayal of parenthood in Usagi Drop is incomplete.
The missing factor that would elevate this anime to something special is that Daikichi doesn’t really act like a true parent. Daikichi has never really had to lecture or scold Rin once in the entire anime. Parenting is more complicated than just being your kid’s caretaker and best friend. Sometimes, you have to lay down the law and teach them right from wrong. Rin’s such a complete angel, however, that Daikichi only has to sit back and reap the compliments — “Daikichi’s the most awesome guy in the world!” Well, yeah, when parenting is this easy, how could you possibly fail?
Usagi Drop is such a happy story, but I’m not looking for just a good feeling. I’m looking to see whether or not the anime hits all the right notes when it comes to parenting, and I can’t really say that it has. I’m not saying that this particular flaw dooms the anime or anything — it is still very enjoyable (and thought-provoking on some levels) to watch. Still, Usagi Drop falls short of perfection.
• So, uh, if it’s so hot, why is Daikichi dressed like a child napper?
With the stock cicada sound effects in the background, I thought I was watching Higurashi for a second.
• Other than the father-daughter relationship between Rin and Daikichi, you know what I would like to see more of in the anime than Masako?
Run, Daikichi, run! The anime is a fresh start! You can still get with the woman of your dreams!